In the very difficult historical moment we are living, marked by the pandemic, conducting face-to-face interviews proved impossible. Like any other social interaction involving proximity between individuals, this fundamental part of the WE-Hope project had to move from a physical to a virtual dimension.
The methodological and technical challenges posed by this transition to the online have been and remain many and varied.
First of all, there are the technical difficulties: the need to have adequate tools and internet connections that support the uploading/downloading of a lot of data can be a major problem for some people we would like to interview.
In the Italian context, the technological and Internet access gap existing among citizens emerged with particular evidence in the context of the pandemic and the online shift of educational, work, social and cultural activities. As researchers, what we want to avoid is to re-propose, within this project, the same patterns of exclusion linked to the digital divide.
Moreover, connection problems or technical limitations of some platforms can - and have happened to us - force us to interrupt the interview in the middle of the story, blocking the flow of memories and sharing of moments of extreme emotion and suffering.
In addition to these, there are the difficulties and challenges on a 'human' level that the transition to the online working poses. We realised that although we have become accustomed to spending part of our time online and in front of a screen, meeting and connecting in this way is not easy. The lack of establishing real contact with the people we interview risks making it more difficult to establish the empathy between interviewee and interviewer that is necessary for a successful dialogue.
These first interviews we conducted made us realise that it is essential to spend more time before the interview starts to get to know each other, explain the project and share the aims of it. The work of oral history is not only about the precise and restricted moment of the interview, but it invests the indispensable human relationship that is created between interviewer and witness.
We will continue to work hard to meet the challenges that this moment is presenting us with, aware that what seem to be difficulties today, once resolved, can become new methodologies that can be applied with awareness to the project.
This article was written by Lapsus.